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Debate Rules, Norms, and Theory

As we are in the midst of the competition season, it is helpful to remember the difference between Rules, Norms, and Theory.

Rules state what the competitors must do. You can find the debate rules in the rules section on the Debate Documents & Resources page on Stoa’s website. To provide a level playing field, each competitor must know their events rules and adhere to them.

Norms are the normal things you may expect in a round, like shaking hands, asking for a judging philosophy, or standing side-by-side with your competitor while facing the judge during cross-examination. Norms, however, are not rules. Just because something is done differently does not mean it is a rule violation.

Theory is conceptual, including value objection, prima facie, criterion, whether a counterplan should be topical or non-topical, or whether the 1N runs the DAs. Stock issues are a dominant theory model in debate, but not the only one. Also, theory may differ widely between clubs and regions.

As we navigate the season, let’s do so with grace. Maybe others are not wrong but have differing opinions? Who is right? What is the best way to proceed? Now, that’s debatable.


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